Where’s Giancarlo Esposito’s “Breaking Bad” Emmy?

August 31, 2014

Gustavo "Gus" Fring, screen shot from Breaking Bad episode, Season 3, August 30, 2014. (http://geeknation.com). Qualifies as fair use under US copyright laws - lower resolution and relevance to subject matter.

Gustavo “Gus” Fring, screen shot from Breaking Bad episode, Season 3, August 30, 2014. (http://geeknation.com). Qualifies as fair use under US copyright laws – lower resolution and relevance to subject matter.

Last Monday, Breaking Bad, a drama series that finished its final season ten months ago, took away six Primetime Emmy Awards out of its sixteen total nominations. Despite the fact that the producers had stretched the show’s fifth season over two years (2012 and 2013), Breaking Bad‘s Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul and Anna Gunn all took home Emmys for lead actor and supporting actor/actress in a drama series —  again, in Cranston’s and Paul’s case. And all I kept thinking was, “Where’s Giancarlo Esposito’s Emmy?”

Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad, Season 5, September 2, 2013. (http://www.businessinsider.com).

Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad, Season 5, September 2, 2013. (http://www.businessinsider.com).

Giancarlo Esposito, for those of you who still remember, played Gustavo “Gus” Fring, a mastermind of a drug lord and pillar of the Albuquerque, New Mexico community. His character was on for a few episodes at the end of Season 2 of Breaking Bad, and for all of Seasons 3 and 4. His character was so serene yet so single-minded, full of rage like Walter White. Yet Fring’s was a rational, focused, disciplined rage, handed out and practiced, like an usher handing out programs at a Sunday church service. Esposito’s Gus Fring was the character upon which Cranston’s Walter White pivoted, rising and falling like a pirouetting ballerina on a spin top. Without Fring, Walter White and Breaking Bad doesn’t make it past Season 2. The character’s dead or in jail long before he has a chance to truly make his mark.

Joel Kinnaman as Det. Stephen Holder in The Killing (2011-14), Vancouver, BC, Canada March 29, 2012. (http://www1.pictures.zimbio.com/). Qualifies as fair use under copyright laws -- relevance to subject matter.

Joel Kinnaman as Det. Stephen Holder in The Killing (2011-14), Vancouver, BC, Canada March 29, 2012. (http://www1.zimbio.com/).

But I guess the Emmy voters didn’t see how central Gus Fring was to the Walter White story. I mean, why else give multiple Emmys to a five-foot-four-inch version of Eminem in Aaron Paul instead? Yes, Paul as Jesse Pinkman is pretty good at being a conflicted affluent hip-hopster, but his Pinkman isn’t even on par with Joel Kinnaman, the taller Eminem-esque reject-as-cop on the series The Killing (which came to a conclusion earlier this month on Netflix). The idea that Paul and Esposito competed for the same award in 2012 was an insult to the acting profession, like comparing fresh squeezed, no-pulp orange juice to Orange Kool-Aid made with high fructose corn syrup.

Really, in thinking about Cranston’s Walter White and the arch of the character, one cannot do it without a serious consideration of Esposito’s Gus Fring. Without Esposito’s Fring, the show is what the Emmys and Hollywood says it is, a story of a man at fifty, a “brilliant yet foolish has-been-who-really-should’ve-been-somebody high school chemistry teacher.” One who became a desperate crystal meth maker and dealer while going through chemotherapy for Stage 4 or Stage 5 lung cancer. A man who turns bad, first in a dark comedic way, then later, as a just plain macabre and dangerously sad character, leaving a trail of bodies along the way.

That version of Breaking Bad, though, doesn’t become the most watched TV series of all time. The real version, with Esposito’s Fring, gave us the full complexity of Cranston’s Walter White, especially his White male angst. Though not as obvious as the White male angst of ’90s grunge as exhibited in Pearl Jam, Nirvana or Live, Cranston’s Walter White is one that until his cancer had lived a life of quiet but smoldering rage, a rage that found its outlet in making and dealing methamphetamine so pure that Ivory Soap and Nazi Germans would be jealous. Only to be second fiddle to an Afro-Latino who’s in control of a billion-dollar drug ring? If that doesn’t bring issues of White entitlement and White resentment to the fore, then we’re in an alternate universe.

2013 Emmy trophy, January 29, 2014. (http://radiodelta.fm).

2013 Emmy trophy, January 29, 2014. (http://radiodelta.fm).

That’s why Breaking Bad‘s Seasons 2-4 were so worth watching, and the extended Season 5 so anticlimactic. The very reason it was inevitable Cranston’s Walter White would get caught and lose everything is the reason why Esposito’s Fring never did while he was alive. Fring knew that he had to always be in control, to always look as if he was a part of an illusion of suburban White Americana, even though in reality his was a world of constant duality. Fring could never risk being as unabashedly arrogant as Cranston’s Walter White precisely because Fring lacked the protections that came with racial entitlement. As Fring knew, the assumption that Black and Brown skin equated with criminality was ever present, and Fring would never confirm that stereotype, even as he personified it.

Walter White, his resentment about how his career and life turned out, this sense that though he was part of the Whiteness club, he hadn’t reap the material benefits of it, left him hopelessly in search of wealth and respect. But more than that. Cranston’s Walter White couldn’t carry that wealth and respect quietly like Esposito’s Fring, at least once White obtained them both. No, White had to let the world know that he was Heisenberg, that he was in charge. That was one of the reasons why he came to resent Fring in the first place.

To play a character like Gustavo Fring as well as Giancarlo Esposito did, to camouflage as much as he revealed, to juxtapose Fring’s humanity and callous disregard for such was what earned Esposito an Emmy nomination in 2012, at least. To also juxtapose his sense of quiet triumph and control in the midst of the world of Whiteness against Cranston’s Walter White and the White resentment and rage that could explode at any moment? That’s Breaking Bad even in Season 5, even minus Esposito’s Fring being present.

Once again, a person of color’s genius has gone unrewarded, and others received rewards on the backs of our work, while we are to be forgotten by most, after being killed off. It’s such a shame.


“Animals” and “Respectability”

August 27, 2014

Rev. Al Sharpton waiting to speak at Michael Brown funeral, Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church, St. Louis, MO, August 25, 2014. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post Dispatch, Robert Cohen, via http://www.wkbn.com).

Rev. Al Sharpton waiting to speak at Michael Brown funeral, Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church, St. Louis, MO, August 25, 2014. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post Dispatch, Robert Cohen, via http://www.wkbn.com).

With America’s history of racial oppression, it should come as no surprise that the range of reactions to events like the police killings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown (among many others, male and female, Black and Latino) have been on the side of racial stereotypes and assumptions. On the one hand, police officers, ordinary Whites and some ultraconservative Blacks have used the terms “animals” and “thugs” interchangeably because Garner and Brown were big Black guys, the stereotypical boogeymen, lurking and ready to rape, maim and kill scared-shitless White folk.

On the other hand, the traditional civil rights establishment and its cadre of ministers have equated the lessons of Brown and the Ferguson protests with the need to stop “looting and pillaging” and to stop wearing baggy pants. That’s the fallback position for attempting to explain why the message of police brutality and militarization against communities of color because of racism and classism isn’t getting through to Whites who have mostly been silent on these incidents.

As I’ve written in the past year or two, both of these perspectives suggest that Blacks and Latinos must somehow make ourselves worthy of humanity. That way, even the most racist of Whites could see that we’re not animals or thugs, but human beings worthy of the same human rights and civil liberties that they enjoy. This didn’t work even during the height of the Civil Rights Movement some five decades ago. Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Jr., John L. Lewis, Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney, and the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Wearing suits and ties, marching with White allies, having the backing of the President of the United States. None of that swayed most Whites, as evidenced by changes in American politics since 1968.

Screen shot of CNN newscast coverage of support for Officer Darren Wilson at rally, Ferguson, MO, August 23, 2014. (http://rawstory.com).

Screen shot of CNN newscast coverage of support for Officer Darren Wilson at rally, Ferguson, MO, August 23, 2014. (http://rawstory.com).

The fact is, those Whites and sycophant Blacks who call African Americans and other people of color “animals” and “thugs” know we’re just as human as they are, if not more so. It’s their way of asserting that they’re better than us, precisely because they believe they can get away with seeing, calling and treating Blacks and other people of color as such. Especially since so many of these “animals” and “thugs” advocates have missed the full material benefits of American capitalism. And with America’s long history of allowing Whites to get away with lynchings, murders, rapes, race riots and other forms of violent oppression, why shouldn’t Whites think they’re in the right when they give money to Officer Darren Wilson for “doing his job” in murdering Michael Brown? As I’ve said before, the year doesn’t matter, the clothes don’t matter, our demeanor in public or how perfect our walk doesn’t matter to many — if not most — Whites. That may be our problem as people of color, but it’s definitely their problem as well.

Rev. Al Sharpton, sexual predator Jamal Bryant, megachurch-Gospel-of-Prosperity pastor T.D. Jakes and so many other men who spoke at Michael Brown’s funeral Monday put themselves on the other side of the “animals” and “thugs” coin with their agenda-loaded bloviations. Sharpton especially should know better, given his history of talking out of both sides of his mouth about the limits of the politics of respectability (Tawana Brawley comes to mind). Yes, being able to orchestrate nonviolent protests with proper victims in a way in which the mainstream media cannot dehumanize or engage in stereotypes was how the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum in the first place. But this methodology had its limits then, as it led to some victories that looked more like symbols than actual victories (even Dr. King said as much in his final three years). It definitely has its limitations now.

Foot on my neck and head, symbolic of oppression in terms of view of Black and Brown as "animals," April 18, 2011. (Donald Earl Collins).

Foot on my neck and head, symbolic of oppression in terms of view of Black and Brown as “animals,” April 18, 2011. (Donald Earl Collins).

We have a leadership that has grown corpulent and ossified in its stomach, pockets and spirit when it comes to oppression and how to respond. Their thinking in so many ways isn’t much different than the Whites who post pictures of President Barack Obama eating a banana with his face pasted onto the head and body of a great ape. That’s the full shame of watching a funeral that was more about individual agendas than it was about Michael Brown or his family and friends, or his life and death, or mobilizing a larger effort.

It’s already terrible that we already have a nation of millions trying to hold people of color back, if only in their own minds (to quasi-quote Public Enemy). We can no longer afford to have an aging leadership whom, even when well-meaning, is unable or unwilling to move beyond symbols and pontification to an effort that promotes new tactics and strategies and younger leadership. It’s beyond time for younger generations to take the reins, and not in a respectable way, either.


Caught Between Rage and a Working Faith

August 21, 2014

"Officer Go Fuck Yourself" aiming rifle at protestors and journalists, Ferguson, MO, August 19, 2014. (http://www.deathandtaxesmag.com/).

“Officer Go Fuck Yourself” aiming rifle at protestors and journalists, Ferguson, MO, August 19, 2014. (http://www.deathandtaxesmag.com/).

After the events of the past month — between Eric Garner and the NYPD, Michael Brown and the Ferguson, Missouri PD — I find myself of two minds. My primal mind says, “Fuck the fucking police!” Resist with rocks, with bricks, with bombs and grenades. Go buy a composite bow with composite arrows. Go buy a rifle with a scope, and take out as many of these motherfuckers as I can. Maybe they’ll think twice about putting someone like me in a choke-hold or shooting us with our hands up if they knew we could organize ourselves into vigilante groups, well armed and well adept at escape and stealth, ready to put the likes of Sunil Dutta out of their racist-ass misery!

Eric Garner in midst of dying from choke-hold via NYPD's finest, Daniel Pantaleo and (not pictured)  and Justin Damico, Staten Island, NY, July 17, 2014. (http://www.thegrio.com).

Eric Garner in midst of dying from choke-hold via NYPD’s finest, Daniel Pantaleo and (not pictured) and Justin Damico, Staten Island, NY, July 17, 2014. (http://www.thegrio.com).

The mind I live in and with every day, though, puts the kibosh on such evil yet well deserved plans of action. Because in light of so much police harassment, brutality and state-sanctioned murders, to say that this shouldn’t be a response belies everything all of us know about human nature. Yet my mind says, “No. This isn’t the way to fight. You’re a writer. You’re a teacher. You’re a believer. Use your tools!” So I pray, I always pray, for people to seek and find the light, to forgive and be forgiven, for peace.

But as the New Testament in James says, “Faith without works is dead” (look that one up, evangelical Christians committed to White privilege!). None of us can hope to change our own lives — much less something as intractable as structural and institutional racism — on prayer and faith in God, the federal government and/or science alone. We have to do, too. In my case, writing and teaching is what I do. Posting to my blog about the palpable rage that I know exists within me and many others who have faced brutality because of racism, misogyny, poverty, homophobia, Whiteness and fear. Teaching about “the physical and psychological wages of Whiteness” (thanks, W.E.B. Du Bois via Black Reconstruction [1935]). Being part of the social media crowd demanding humanity and justice for Michael Brown. This is who I am and what I do.

Me the Evil Blogger at home, Silver Spring, MD, August 1, 2010. (Donald Earl Collins).

Me the Evil Blogger at home, Silver Spring, MD, August 1, 2010. (Donald Earl Collins).

Is it enough to assuage my rage, my guilt for not being able to do more? Yes, most of the time. But I have to remind the perfectionist that remains within me, I can’t do much, but I can do something. And, that this isn’t about me, even with as much as I’ve experienced in racial profiling and abuse of power, at home and with police. It’s about all of us. So, if I do buy a composite bow with arrows, I will train to use it well. Just not on other humans, no matter how reprehensible.


Social Media Trolls, In a Pic or Two

August 16, 2014

Some folks who come at me through Twitter, my blog on WordPress, even in the “friend” zone on Facebook, are by definition trolls. According to Wikipedia (and apparently, an Indiana University webpage where the definition below comes from), a troll is

a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.

A Sentinel cutting through the Nebuchadnezzar (screen shot), The Matrix (1999), August 16, 2014. (Donald Earl Collins). Qualifies as fair use under copyright laws - especially low resolution.

A Sentinel cutting through the Nebuchadnezzar (screen shot), The Matrix (1999), August 16, 2014. (Donald Earl Collins). Qualifies as fair use under copyright laws – especially low resolution.

But this isn’t a complete definition. Trolls are often anonymous, or, if not hiding in the shadows, often have few followers/follow few people in social media. They don’t just “start arguments” — they launch vitriolic personal attacks on individuals with whom they disagree in order to distract from that person(s) point or main topic. They often express every -ism and -phobia they have toward other humans, as if their own humanity and the humanity of the group they think represent is the only one that matters.

And when they find themselves engaged with other trolls, they swarm an individual in the social media world like Sentinels from The Matrix series, hoping to destroy the person in the process. It’s the virtual equivalent of bullying and harassment, and they deserve as much respect in the social media world as we’d give to a bully in the real world. The kind of respect that calls trolls out and puts them in check, the kind of respect that may well involve law enforcement and legal actions.

Swarm of Sentinels about to attack Neo in Machine City (screen shot), The Matrix Revolutions (2003), August 16, 2014. (http://www.cgw.com/images/). Qualifies as fair use under copyright laws - low resolution.

Swarm of Sentinels about to attack Neo in Machine City (screen shot), The Matrix Revolutions (2003), August 16, 2014. (http://www.cgw.com/images/). Qualifies as fair use under copyright laws – low resolution.

Trolls do one good thing, though. They remind us there are millions of people who want to sleepwalk through life unaware of power, privilege and injustice. Or maybe, they’ve become addicted to their own misery and narcissism. So though we may want to strangle them, the best way to deal with them is with a swarm of our own, to ignore, block and check them at every turn. Too bad we can’t also use an EMP on them.


US Intervention Issues, Easy To Predict & Do Nothing About

August 9, 2014

An F/A-18E Super Hornet takes off from the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush in the Persian Gulf, as US air strikes in Iraq begin, August 8, 2014. (AFP/US Navy via http://images.smh.com.au/). In public domain.

An F/A-18E Super Hornet takes off from the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush in the Persian Gulf, as US air strikes in Iraq begin, August 8, 2014. (AFP/US Navy via http://images.smh.com.au/). In public domain.

We’re back at it in Iraq again, albeit on a limited basis. Humanitarian food and medicine drops, airstrikes on ISIS positions near the US consulate in Erbil (also an oil depot, by the way). The saga that has been the twenty-three year quagmire of Iraq, one entirely of our own making, continues. That President Barack Obama has called this intervention one in prevention of “genocide” doesn’t impress me and many others, considering the actions of Israel in Gaza over the past six weeks. I guess one nation’s genocide is another nation’s defense through indiscriminate killing and wounding. The hypocrisy stinks from here to Pluto and back.

I digress. Americans now loathe the words “Iraq,” “Middle East,” and “intervention.” Yet after Vietnam, and especially after the end of the Cold War, we should have held our government accountable for any interventions without clear causes, clear interests, and clear objectives. Instead, we’ve been stumbling all over the place, like a drunkard with a car full of bombs and shells, careening from one conflict to another, blowing up people, places and property all along this wild and disgusting ride.

But let’s not act as if this was unforeseen. The most astute foreign policy experts withoutPhDs in Soviet studies (e.g., Condoleezza Rice) knew that any major intervention in the Middle East, whether to protect people or US energy interests, would mean intervening over and over again. All with the potential for geopolitical instability as the interventions would stack up over time.

FRONTLINE logo, PBS, August 9 2014. (http://www-tc.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/art/bigfl.jpg).

FRONTLINE logo, PBS, August 9 2014. (http://www-tc.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/art/bigfl.jpg).

And no, I’m not talking about a 1993 report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies or a 1999 conference hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. That would be far too obscure and inside-expert to be clairvoyant. Try PBS’s FRONTLINE series of documentaries between 1990 and 2000. They did at least three documentaries predicting this gradual but steady destabilizing of the Middle East with the help of an increasingly interventionist American foreign policy, starting with Operation Desert Shield in August 1990.

Below are the three FRONTLINE documentaries that I watched during the period in which experts predicted the infuriatingly unstable world wrought by capricious US foreign policy, economic dominance and military interventions (all from the website http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/programs):

The Arming of Iraq: Frontline Special (aired September 11, 1990)
FRONTLINE examines how Saddam Hussein built Iraq’s massive arsenal of tanks, planes, missiles, and chemical weapons during the 1980’s. Correspondent Hodding Carter inve[s]tigates (sic) the complicity of the US, European governments, and Western corporations in creating the Iraqi military machine the world is now trying to stop.

Give War A Chance (aired May 11, 1999)
FRONTLINE explores the bitter divide between military and civilian attitudes about where, when, and why America employs military force. In examining the gulf between what American diplomats want and what the military is prepared to deliver, correspondent Peter J. Boyer follows the inevitable collision from Vietnam to the Balkans between diplomat Richard Holbrooke and Admiral Leighton Smith. Their careers, and ultimate clash, represent the most vivid example of this critical foreign policy dilemma.

The Future of War (aired October 24, 2000)
The U.S. Army is experiencing an identity crisis brought on by the end of the Cold War. As it heads into the 21st century, the nation’s largest military service is struggling to keep pace with changing technology, changing enemies and increasingly global missions. FRONTLINE examines the Army’s internal debate between those promoting change and those resisting it, and how todays decisions may impact the outcome of wars fought decades from now.

Emaciated and dead cow in desert, Australia, 2009. (Government of Australia via http://www.nsf.gov/news/).

Emaciated and dead cow in desert, Australia, 2009. (Government of Australia via http://www.nsf.gov/news/).

The last one actually included examples of possible future interventions going into the late-2010s, with a particular focus on Iraq.

So to those millions of Americans who don’t want to dwell on the past and only talk about the vapid and the positive, I say that’s hard to do when we let our past fester like carrion in the middle of the Sahara Desert at high noon. The stink is too obvious to ignore, and apparently was so easy to predict that most Americans ignored it. And all to our peril, past, present and future.


How Nixon’s Resignation Made Me A Self-Aware 4-Year-Old

August 6, 2014

President Richard Nixon delivering his resignation speech (cropped screen shot) ahead of impeachment over Watergate, abuse of power, August 8, 1974. (http://washingtonpost.com). In public domain.

President Richard Nixon delivering his resignation speech (cropped screen shot) ahead of impeachment over Watergate, abuse of power, August 8, 1974. (http://washingtonpost.com). In public domain.

I have a deeply personal perspective from which I saw President Richard Nixon’s resignation forty years ago. It’s a perspective that has ordered my steps nearly every day for the past four decades. If it weren’t for a kitchen accident and his televised resignation speech, I probably wouldn’t be the person I am today, or the person I’ve been over the past 14,610 days. Nixon and my kitchen accident combined to “pop my memory cap,” to quote a line from the original Total Recall (1990) starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Total Recall (1990) scene where fake memories meet real ones (a.k.a., "memory cap scene"), August 5, 2014. (http://www.rellimzone.com/).

Total Recall (1990) scene where fake memories meet real ones (a.k.a., “memory cap scene”), August 5, 2014. (http://www.rellimzone.com/).

That Thursday evening, August 8, ’74, was the very first time I became continually self-aware, forming memories like a video camera records scenes, with thoughts of myself and the world around me. I didn’t understand everything I saw, of course. But I did know that I saw what I saw, and for more than just a few moments.

Seeing Nixon’s big head on my Mom’s 19-inch color Zenith wasn’t my first memory, though. I remember crawling by my Mom’s TV set in ’72 at our second-floor flat in which we shared a kitchen with another family in Mount Vernon, NY. I remember because it was the first time I’d seen numbers, the numbers being 1972 with a copyright symbol in front of it. (I told a graduate student friend of mine about this first memory once – she told me it would be impossible for me as a two-year-old to remember specific numbers. What did she know?) I also remember the closing theme song from the show that was on immediately before Another World, which I figured out in later years was NBC’s other soap opera Days of Our Lives.

"Tide Gives You A Fresh, Clean Wash" commercial (cropped screen shot), circa 1970 (guess our babysitter took this literally), October 14, 2013. (http://article.wn.com).

“Tide Gives You A Fresh, Clean Wash” commercial (cropped screen shot), circa 1970 (guess our babysitter took this literally), October 14, 2013. (http://article.wn.com).

Two other memories prior to August 8, ’74 stand out. One was me escaping from the front yard at 48 Adams Street and walking down the block to the local asphalt playground, with basketball hoops and jungle gym included. I remember playing with much older boys, having fun, and my Mom whupping me from the playground all the way down the block back to the house. The other was when our babysitter Ida bathed me and my older brother Darren in a tub full of scolding hot water with Tide Detergent. I was so angry, I called her a “Bitch!” Angry likely because I was itching all over, the b-word likely because my Mom and my father Jimme used the word like it was a period to end a sentence. Miss Ida backhanded me like I was going cross-court as a tennis ball at the US Open. All of this happened when I was three.

The flood gates opened the following summer of ’74, though. It started because of a traumatic injury. My Mom was cooking in the shared kitchen at 48 Adams, making some kind of chicken dish. She had the oven door open, having just taken the chicken out of it and having placed it on the stove. I asked her if I could have a bite. Of course my Mom said, “No, Donald, it’s too hot!” I didn’t listen. I tried to climb up to the top of the stove by using the open oven door as a step stool, and lo and behold, I scorched my right leg when I put it on the inside of the door. I remember my Mom screaming, “Oh my God!” as I fell to the floor, screaming along with her.

My second-degree leg burn, 40 years later - darker area circled is faded mark that was once on the right side of my right calf, August 5, 2014. (Donald Earl Collins).

My second-degree leg burn, 40 years later – darker area circled is faded mark that was once on the right side of my right calf, August 5, 2014. (Donald Earl Collins).

The skin around the burn area was gone (if it had happened today, it would’ve been a pretty good second-degree burn, and I probably would’ve ended up at the hospital), leaving a white — not pink, white — circular burn mark. My Mom applied ointment and a bandage, made me take two Bayer aspirin for the pain, and told me to calm down and be quiet. She plopped me down on the couch in the living room, which was slightly to the right of the TV.

I was still crying in pain from the shock of seeing, smelling and feeling my skin being seared in the kitchen. As my Mom sat me down, a man with a gigantic head appeared on the television screen, a man I vaguely knew as the President of the United States. I really didn’t understand much of what President Nixon said, but I do recall my Mom shaking her head, and Cronkite calling it a “sad time” for the country. Given how sad I already felt, I think I might have felt sorry for the man with the big head on the TV set.

From that moment on, I’ve had continual memories. I remember my Mom taking me to Darren’s Headstart program somewhere around South 2nd or South 3rd Avenue in Mount Vernon the next day to pick him up, seeing the man with the big head wave with his fingers sticking in the air before going on a helicopter ride, and then being dragged to Met Grocery Store on South Fulton Avenue for groceries, all with a painfully sore leg. Luckily, my Mom caught us a cab home.

And the week after that, we moved to 425 South Sixth, next to Nathan Hale Elementary, where I would go to kindergarten the following month. And the week after that, my father Jimme introduced Darren to The Clear View School, after an argument with my Mom about him “drinkin’ up all his money again.” Ah, the parallels between big historical events and key moments in my life haven’t stopped since!


A Children’s Crusade

August 2, 2014

Living among the dead, Flanders, Belgium, most likely during Second Battle of Ypres, April 21-May 25, 1915. (http://www.flandersfieldsmusic.com/).

Living among the dead, Flanders, Belgium, most likely during Second Battle of Ypres, April 21-May 25, 1915. (http://www.flandersfieldsmusic.com/).

World War I reached its 100th anniversary on Monday. One hundred years ago this week, European imperialism, nationalism, and Social Darwinism/scientific racism all led to what was once known as the Great War. It was a war that would leave ten million soldiers, sailors and airmen dead, another seven million civilians dead from military action, malnutrition and disease, and another 23 million wounded in action on both sides.

A British Mark V tank coming out of a trench, France, circa 1917. (Imperial War Museum via http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2013/10/05/).

A British Mark V tank coming out of a trench, France, circa 1917. (Imperial War Museum via http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2013/10/05/).

That war, a mostly European war of the great world powers, was itself based in the idea that Western culture and technologies would make this a quick and winnable war of dominance, for Germany, Britain, France and possibly Russia. The first war planes, the first tanks, the first submersibles, along with mustard and chlorine gas, nests of machine guns and trench warfare. It’s amazing how small-minded these so-called great powers were a full century ago, and so remarkable that we’ve grown beyond this thinking today!

Actually, not so fast! Our world seems to have learned little from the lessons of the First World War, repeating practices that leave the globe perpetually on the brink of chaos and potentially in peril of annihilation. We’ve seen this with the Second World War, with the Cold War and its myriad proxy wars in the Global South, with post-Cold War aggression in the Balkans, the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, and with US preemptive aggressions in the Muslim world. Ethnocentrism and ethnic cleansing in the name of a religion (or a lack thereof, in a couple of cases) or nationalism has been a part of modern war since World War I.

Poppies in field between Kelling and Weybourne, North Norfolk, England, UK,  June 2002. (John Beniston via Wikipedia). Released to public domain via CC-SA-3.0.

Poppies in field between Kelling and Weybourne, North Norfolk, England, UK, June 2002. (John Beniston via Wikipedia). Released to public domain via CC-SA-3.0.

Imperialism and colonialism and resistance to both in the name of freedom, or too frequently, another form of ethnocentrism and religious nationalism. Name a given nation, and you have some strain of Western imperialism and colonization, resistance and ethnocentrism and nationalism (religious, anti-religious or otherwise) running through their recent history. India, Pakistan, the former Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, the former Yugoslavia, Perón’s Argentina, Pinochet’s Chile, the Khmer Rouge and Cambodia, South Africa and apartheid, Israel and Zionism and settler colonialism, Japan and its military occupation of China, just to name a few. The First World War unleashed these forces this week one hundred years ago, a Pandora’s box that we will need to destroy, for it’s obviously too late to close it.

One of Sting’s songs from his first solo album, The Dream of the Blue Turtles, is titled “Children’s Crusade” (1984). It’s the story of Britain’s blind march into the First World War, the wasting of a generation of youth in the name of the empire, juxtaposed with the UK’s heroin and drug epidemic of the early 1980s.

Young men and soldiers, Nineteen Fourteen
Marching through countries they’d never seen
Virgins with rifles, a game of charades
All for a Children’s Crusade

Pawns in the game are not victims of chance
Strewn on the fields of Belgium and France
Poppies for young men, death’s bitter trade
All of those young lives betrayed

Though not his best work, Sting’s “Children’s Crusade” has made me think more than once about the brutality of humanity and this inherent need to dominate other human beings, as well as the lands and resources for which vulnerable people have been cleansed and displaced. He should update it for 2014 this way:

Midnight in Gaza, Twenty Fourteen
Bombed and shelled hospitals, pawns in the game
Ashes and sackcloth, death’s bitter trade
All of those young lives betrayed

And all for a century-old crusade of nationalistic paranoia, imperialistic abuse, and dehumanizing ethnocentric warfare.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 696 other followers